Chloë Sevigny: Beyond the labels

Sevigny wears a Paco Rabanne Haute Couture dress and collar.
(Robert Gauthier / LAT)
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Special to The Times

IT girl. Indie queen. They’re the labels that Chloë Sevigny just can’t seem to shake.

Never mind that at 32 she’s hardly a girl. Or that she’s Oscar nominated, stars in an HBO series and can be seen in “Zodiac.” No matter how mainstream her career becomes, Sevigny perpetuates a renegade allure. If she can be accused of being truly indie about anything, it’s her fashion sense.

Here’s a Hollywood star who dares to walk the red carpet without an overpaid stylist dictating what shoes she should slip into. She admits to doing her own makeup and hair because, well, it’s easier. Whether her choices leave everyday observers giddy or gob-smacked, Sevigny pulls them off to such effect that the fashion world goes ga-ga at every choice.

Alber Elbaz, creative director of the Paris couture house Lanvin, recalls his first meeting with Sevigny — long before her big break in “Boys Don’t Cry” — as “an instant attraction. These days, with so many actresses, you only see the dress or the jewelry. Who cares? That’s not true style. With Chloë, I don’t see my designs — I see her.”


Such love letters don’t surprise Cameron Silver, whose Melrose Avenue vintage shop Decades is the source of many inspirational clothes for designers — and among Sevigny’s favorite shopping haunts.

“Chloë’s arguably the most influential actress when it comes to fashion. The true style makers and arbiters, especially designers, use her as a point of inspiration,” says Silver. “She may not influence the masses, but she influences those who do.”

Sevigny adjusts the strap on her heel, when Silver breaks from this afternoon’s shoot at his shop. He holds up a purple and brass neckpiece to pair with the multicolored dress she’s already thrown on. Both first appeared at a mid-1970s Paco Rabanne haute couture show. The look, as seen on the cover, is total Chloë.

Vintage has always been at the core of her edgy style. She was among the first to make it cool on the red carpet, after years of mixing the preppy of her Connecticut upbringing with a vintage-informed street style gleaned from escapes into Manhattan. Her then-singular look got her noticed at 17 by a magazine editor and swept her straight into the “It girl” realm.

Humble influences

DESPITE all that’s been made about the wealthy community of Darien where she and her older brother Paul grew up, she is quick to note her parents kept a frugal household. Her father was an interiors painter, and she swept tennis courts at the local country club the family couldn’t afford to join. She turned wearing vintage into a virtue. “I still prefer to buy vintage over spending it all on one designer.”

That’s not to say she doesn’t splurge, as she did on the sunny yellow Missoni she yanked off the rack at Decades. But the dress is a fraction of what it cost new. “My mother encourages me to spend a little,” she says. “It still feels weird. Even now I never live beyond my means. I’ve never been that girl. I mean, I have a Christian Dior mink poncho. But I didn’t buy it.”


Sevigny isn’t about to pretend her designing friends don’t give her a bag here or a gown there. But it’s not by the boxful as some might think. “I borrow,” she says, explaining she really has no choice with all those work parties. Still, she is smartly circumspect, acknowledging the deals between celebs and fashion houses, the Reese Witherspoon-Nina Ricci partnership being among the latest.

“I love fashion, so wearing brands is unavoidable,” she says. “I know it’s feeding the Hollywood fashion publicity machine. I’ve been offered lots of money to wear things to an event. But I never accepted. I didn’t want to go there. I don’t want to be tied down that way. There’s just too much talent out there.”

Which is something from someone, whose pals are among fashion’s brightest: Elbaz, YSL’s Stefano Pilati, Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesqui–re, Proenza Schouler’s Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, as well as rising Brit stars Thea Bregazzi and Justin Thornton of Preen and Christopher Kane. “I never want to be the girl in the diamond studs and beauty pageant gown playing it safe at awards shows. I’m not interested in looking like a 5-year-old girl. It’s important to be aware of what’s age appropriate. That’s why I love Anjelica Huston. She’s always looks exotic and right.”

For all her experimentation, Sevigny admits she doesn’t always hit it right. But for every wild choice — say, the lederhosen obsession of four years ago — there’s a certain brilliance that frequently offers a peek into next year’s crystal ball.

“Chloë makes her own rules,” Proenza Schouler’s Hernandez and McCollough wrote by e-mail from Rome. “She’s a chameleon. She can go from sitting on the floor in jeans and a dirty T-shirt to changing into couture to become the Hollywood ideal. The transition never looks studied. It’s this ease that inevitably comes off as ‘cool.’ ”

Just ask

GIVEN her keen eye and determined vision, Sevigny often gets involved in wardrobe — by invitation or not. On HBO’s “Big Love,” where she plays a polygamist wife, she pushed for a more buttoned-up wardrobe.

And she’s used to the kind of requests that came with working with M. Blash, the director and writer of “Lying,” Sevigny’s latest indie feature (she couldn’t stay away for long) slated for a May release.

“We raided her closet,” admits Blash. “A lot of Chloë’s clothes evoke deeper feelings, as if she’s summoning different parts of herself. Chloë’s always been the cooler big sister, a step ahead of everyone. She’s the first to say something is over, to move on. I admire that in a society that’s so much about a mob mentality.”

Considering today’s mob counts the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, Sevigny stands well apart as an actress and style icon, says John Demsey, the global brand president for Est–e Lauder, who persuaded Sevigny to join M.A.C.’s long-running AIDS fundraising campaign, Viva Glam. “She’s no sellout,” he says.

Even as she goes after bigger budget films — and may even trade out the denim hot pants for lady-like chic — will she retain that indie streak? “I hope so!” she declares. “It’s who I am.”



Sevigny’s bold and brash tastes go way back.

Style: A little vintage, a little designer, with room for the eccentric and eclectic.

Muses: Her father, who died in 1996, “had impeccable taste in people, clothes and music. He was listening to the Flying Lizards and Joe Jackson records when I was a kid. And next to Deborah Harry, my mom is the most beautiful woman.”


Biggest influence: Her brother, Paul, a stockbroker turned DJ. “He was a skate punk kid and I wanted to be whatever he was. He’s still incredibly stylish. He only lives three blocks from me in Manhattan.”

L.A. versus N.Y.: With all its paparazzi, L.A. is a little more trouble. “The Eastside is definitely not so bad, which is why I love being here.”

Best physical asset: Over dinner, she guiltlessly admits to a stomach pooch. But it’s her legs she learned to love and showcase whenever possible. Steve Jones, the former Sex Pistol, “started calling me ‘Legs’ and it stuck. Maybe it’s about getting older, but I feel better about that body part than when I was younger.”

Weakness: Black ankle boots to the current tune of 20. “They’re just a staple of my wardrobe since junior high. I guess I feel confident, a little tougher. My favorites now are my Tara Subkoff for Easy Spirit, Robert Clergerie and Jil Sander.”

Chic eats: Dominick’s, Caf– Stella and Edendale are regular haunts, but none beat the Pacific Dining Car downtown. “I love the steaks. I love the formality of it.”

Favorite vintage: Original YSL, Chanel (Coco era), Holly Harp, Azzedine Alaia, Thierry Mugler.

Making a statement: “I always think my features are so big that I need a bold piece of jewelry. I’m not really interested in jewelry created for delicate little birds.”


Last word: “You hear about these actresses who avoid going to fashion shows lest they not be taken seriously. I don’t like going because it’s such a circus. It’s always anticlimactic. But I’m not ashamed to admit it: Fashion is superficial, but I love it.”